BEACON FALLS — Last year is a distant memory for the Woodland baseball team.
The Hawks are focused on leaving behind a 7-13 season in which they missed the state tournament for the first time since the program’s infancy. With plenty of returning parts, third-year head coach Mike Kingsley thinks last year’s experience will do nothing but help.
“You can’t look back; you have to look ahead,” Kingsley said. “These guys all know the mistakes they made last year. They gained an invaluable amount of experience from that and it wasn’t from lack of effort.”
Defense was the downfall of last year’s squad, which started 0-7 and 1-9. Woodland routinely made three-plus errors per game, wasting strong pitching efforts by a three-man rotation and negating the effect of an offense that more than held its own.
“The defense is what let us down all year,” Kingsley said. “We hit and pitched as well as anybody in the league, but you can’t have four or five errors a game and expect to be competitive. It’s been primarily a defensive preseason. We’re getting back to basics.”
Each of Woodland’s five seniors is a captain on this year’s team. Shortstop Dave Uhl, third baseman Steve Baeder, center fielder Anthony Scirpo and utility players Anthony Ross and Nick Brown are all returning starters.
“They’re five seniors that were four-year program players,” Kingsley said. “We brought them all together and they’ve really enjoyed it. They feel like it’s their team. Each one of those kids should be a captain so I didn’t feel the need to eliminate one of them.”
Those five are expected to be among the Hawks’ top six hitters. They’ll join junior Tanner Kingsley in the front end of a lineup that the coach thinks could be as good as any in the Naugatuck Valley League, particularly with its speed.
“I challenge any team to have a faster top of the order than us,” Mike Kingsley said. “Anthony Scirpo runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash time) and David Uhl is about as fast as him. Tanner Kingsley, Stephen Baeder and Nick Brown can get out and go. We’ve been concentrating in our hit groups in taking the extra bag.”
Tanner Kingsley is the only returner from last year’s regular pitching rotation. Billy Alfiere and Brian Langdon combined to log the majority of innings last season, but their graduation will necessitate new additions to the staff.
Ross shapes up to become the team’s No. 2 starter and could be the designated hitter when he’s not on the mound. Baeder will return to the mound for the first time since early in his high school career and first-year varsity players Anthony D’Agnone and Everett Miner have shown positives in the preseason, Mike Kingsley said.
“Tanner’s a control pitcher,” he said. “He had the best ERA on the team last season, so we’re looking for big things from him. Anthony Ross was close last year so he’ll step in, and Anthony D’Agnone and Everett Miner are showing signs that they can pitch at this level.”
Kingsley pointed to the catching battle between Mike Gondola and Brown as a positive in the preseason. He said both have been good influences on the new staff and either one will be strong as a starter.
“Mike Gondola and Nick Brown behind the plate are leaders in every sense of the word,” Kingsley said. “They’ve already shown the ability to keep our pitchers under control and focused at the task at hand. They’re tremendous back there.”
There are also competitions for starting positions in the corner outfield spots and at second base with first-year varsity players making strong pushes.
“There are some kids who were in the freshman team last year who have stepped up and shown that they can compete,” Kingsley said. “They’re pushing the older guys for spots in the outfield. There’s a three-way competition at second base right now with three guys who haven’t played varsity before.”
Woodland has five scrimmages lined up for the final week of the preseason before starting the regular season April 3 at home against St. Paul. The Hawks will hit the road versus Watertown on April 5.